How to Cultivate Intelligent Movement for Mind and Body

intelligent movementBy: Anastasiya Goers 

Do you feel that exercise is punishment?

That’s what I used to think growing up every time that my Mom tried to send me in for sports.

I used to think, ‘How can a person enjoy all that sweating, pain and discomfort?’

Instead, I loved to dive into the fictitious world of novels, exercise your brain by learning something new or get creative with some crafts. I enjoyed building my mental muscles and absolutely despised everything that had to do with athletic performance.

Fast forward about 15 years and you are now reading the thoughts of a Pilates instructor, an avid runner and an Insanity/T-25 junkie who can’t imagine her life without exercise. What has changed?

And most importantly, how does this change relate to you?

A very brief “how I got here” story

When I was a teenager I started having weight issues so I naturally got trapped in the cycle of yo-yo dieting and decided to give my all time enemy (fitness) a go. Due to a very fortunate series of events in my life, I have discovered Pilates. Wow, that was a game changer for me!

Finally, I found a form of exercise that used my brain to gain mastery over my body (exactly as Joseph Pilates, the creator of the method, intended it.)

The part where you see how this whole thing relates to you

Did you ever think that …

  • you are not made for exercise,
  • cleaning a toilet feels like a more appealing activity than going for a run,
  • your strength is in your intellect and not in your muscle mass?

If you answered “yes” to at least one of the statements above, you and I just might be apples that fell off the same tree.

As intelligent people, we know about the importance of exercise but we still can’t get into the habit of torturing ourselves on a daily basis.The truth is that we can’t stick to a healthy habit of exercise if we don’t like it.

The Brainy Exercise

One of the biggest discoveries that I made after starting Pilates was finally finding the connection between my body and my mind.

Before I was introduced to Pilates I thought about exercise as a brute force that was supposed to chisel my body and punish me for that bowl of ice-cream and an extra slice of pizza that I eaten the night before. There was nothing sophisticated about fitness. It was sweaty, painful and unpleasant, just like a punishment was supposed to feel.

I was literally working against my body, my entire being screaming inside because of the huge imbalance between my mind and body.

The first thing that we did during my first-ever Pilates class was lie down, breathe and listen to our body. Is there pain or discomfort? Does one side feel heavier than the other? Does the body feel aligned?

We spent about 5 minutes breathing and thinking and then slowly started building a mental connection between the brain and the muscles.

Before lifting up into a basic crunch (a precursor to the famous Pilates Hundred) we checked the position of the body, took a deep breath in and through vivid imagery found “The Core” where all the movements originate from. It was the first time in my life that I didn’t feel my neck pulling or tension in my shoulders. I could actually feel my muscles engaging in a balanced way.

The most amazing thing, I was finally enjoying the exercise!

What I felt in my body almost 10 years ago is now proven by research.

1. Redirecting your focus to your core during every exercise results in a deeper activation of distant muscles during every exercise. In plain English, it means that if you actively focus on alignment and engaging your core muscles while doing even a simple bicep curl you will achieve greater results with fewer repetitions.

2. Mindful exercise that uses imagery and positive feedback improves cognitive flexibility (finding creative solutions to everyday problems) as discussed by Dr. Michael Merzenich whose research has been featured in the New York Times bestseller The Brain that Changes Itself.

3. Pilates improves memory performance and cognitive functions according to a small study conducted in China.

The Do-It-Right-Now Plan

The biggest benefit of the Pilates method is that you can take it anywhere with you.

But that isn’t everything.

The biggest benefit that sets Pilates apart from any other form of exercise is the focus on 6 Pilates principles. Learning them and taking them to every activity during the day (driving, washing dishes, running and even resting) is what makes it intelligent movement for smart people.

Whether you are ready to look up a Pilates studio in your area or aren’t really sold on the benefits of the method yet (click here for 12 scientifically proven benefits of Pilates for your mind ), take some time to explore the effects of Pilates principles on your body and your mind right now.

1. Concentration on the activity that you are doing lets you focus completely on the task at hand. Learning to concentrate on a certain group of muscles in your body lets you move efficiently. It also teaches you to find the same concentration in managing your daily projects.

2. Centering. Every movement of the body starts from the core where your center of gravity is located. This focus on the center is important to maintain proper alignment during every activity. Working from your physical core is as important as building your life on your core beliefs. You need to have a strong foundation to withstand life’s challenges and to be stronger (physically, mentally and emotionally) every day.

3. Control. Every exercise is done with full muscular control, no body part is left to its own devices. If we would maintain the same level of control during each type of physical activity that we do then the number of injuries that we have had or could get would decrease by at least 60%. Finding control over one’s body promotes body awareness and body confidence.

4. Precision in Pilates is maintained throughout every movement. It is keeping awareness of the position of each body part during each phase of the exercise. Think about it as mindfulness training for your body. The best part is that by learning mindfulness in your body you can also use it in other areas of your life. As a result you become more creative and are able to release emotional tension easily.

5. Flow. The order of exercises in Pilates flows gracefully from one to the other, each consecutive exercise building up from the previous one. It is the same flow that we want to achieve in our work where creative ideas are born effortlessly. Flowing through a workout that challenges our body prepares us to flow through the tasks that challenge our mind.

6. Breathing. Joseph Pilates (the creator of the method) emphasized the importance of deep breathing during every exercise. Today most of us are shallow breathers which means that we fill up only the top part of our lungs with air leaving our body chronically oxygen-deprived. This type of breathing is also the indicator of chronic stress in the body. Learning to breathe deeply is the single most important thing that anyone can take from a Pilates class.

Do this right now to feel relaxed …

Put your hands on the sides of your ribs with your fingers open like hand fans and pointing at one another. Inhale slowly through your nose trying to fill up the lowest pockets of your lungs with air. Feel your fingers slowly separating as you inflate the bottom part of your ribcage. Open your mouth a little bit and exhale making a soft “Haaaa” sound. Feel your fingertips coming closer together as if you were closing the hand fans on your sides. Repeat until you feel more balanced and relaxed.

Take these principles to any workout that you are doing and you will start reaping the benefits of exercise both for your mind and your body.

What are your thoughts on exercise?

About the author: Anastasiya Goers is following her passion for Pilates and balanced living by teaching in-person and virtual Pilates classes and running a community-based Pilates website, PilatesBridge.com

 

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mary Jaksch February 22, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Just as I was getting this post ready for publishing, I got an invitation to a Pilates workshop about how to prevent back injuries.

I went along and it was fascinating!

I hadn’t realized how important it is to heal the body by focusing on small, mindful movements so that brain and body can learn new pathways to healing.

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2 Anastasiya February 24, 2014 at 9:56 am

What a perfect timing Mary!
I am glad you loved the workshop and learned something new about your body. You are so multi-talented already, maybe one day you’ll decide to pursue Pilates on a deeper level ;-)

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3 Sandra Pawula February 22, 2014 at 6:21 pm

I’m definitely one to feel like exercise is torture! But, I do enjoy being still and scanning my body as you mention. So I think that’s a good start. I am fascinated by the theory and approach you’ve presented here so I’m hoping to use your ideas to take baby steps forward. Thanks so much!
Sandra Pawula´s last blog post ..Awakening to Interdependence: The Key to True Happiness for All

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4 Anastasiya February 24, 2014 at 10:00 am

You are welcome Sandra!

Pilates can definitely open new ways for exploring mindfulness in your body.
I have personally found that both people who are in love with exercise and the ones who aren’t end up loving this method. It can offer something for everyone and it adapts easily to the needs of the person practicing it.
Anastasiya´s last blog post ..The Joys of Classical Pilates. Experience Joe’s Teaching in Your Living Room

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5 Jagoda Perich-Anderson, M.A. February 23, 2014 at 11:28 pm

Your description of Pilates as mindfulness for the body is so different from the experience I had with it years ago when I tried it. Maybe it was the teacher and maybe it was me not being ready or completely open to the experience. I left that class not feeling like I’d learned anything and a bit out of balance. Your article makes me think I should give it another try.
Jagoda Perich-Anderson, M.A.´s last blog post ..How to Provoke Defensive or Collaborative Behavior

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6 Anastasiya February 24, 2014 at 10:26 am

There are different schools of Pilates training and their graduates can teach Pilates in very different ways. I’ll try to give you a couple of pointers on how to pick the best instructor:
1. Probably the most important factor in having a positive experience with Pilates is finding an instructor that you can connect with.
2. I would personally recommend taking a private Pilates lesson before you start any group classes. A group setting is generally faster paced and offers less opportunities to focus on the movement in your body.
3. Ask your instructor about the training that she went through and any continuing ed workshops she’s been through. Here is w quick breakdown of what to expect:
Balanced Body Pilates (the school I’ve been trained through) has a more contemporary approach to Pilates with the focus on proper body mechanics. They use modern research in biomechancis, fascial fitness and body alignment to enhance the Pilates Method.
BASI Pilates is similar to Balanced Body and they offer a great program for teachers and students.
Stott Pilates has a more “athletic” quality to it. The classes are usually faster and you feel more like you are taking a class at the gym.
Peak Pilates is similar to Stott, they follow a classical Pilates protocol with more focus on fast flow and strength.
Polestar Pilates is almost a hybrid between physical therapy and Pilates. They offer in-depth training and a lot of specialty courses on dealing with specific conditions and injuries.
Romana’s Pilates is a classical Pilates training program that is the closest to the original teaching style of Joseph Pilates.
These are a few of the Pilates training school that I can think of right now. Instructors in your area might have different training.

If you are interested in trying Pilates that I’ve been talking about in the article I can help you find a great instructor in your area.

Just send me an email through pilatesbridge.com and I’ll help you find a great studio in your area or give you links to awesome Pilates classes online (it’s not the same as in-person Pilates but it’s better than low-quality Pilates teachers.)
Anastasiya´s last blog post ..The Joys of Classical Pilates. Experience Joe’s Teaching in Your Living Room

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7 Dr Gulam Mohd Chinchwalker (Qadri) February 23, 2014 at 11:35 pm

Only Islam had made compulsory to cultivate intelligent movement for mind , body and soul . It is compulsory to offer namaz which is composed of at least 6 asanas of Yoga , concentration , breathing technique , meditation five times a day . Once has to walk upto masjid and take a long way back which fulfil the need of walking , it include many factor like diet , cleaniness suprisingly how a person 1400 ago speak of perfect health which we are discovering today. Exercise start right in the womb of the mother , each movement help in building the milestone of child ..Cleanliness does not mean only of body clean soul and character is essentail May god bless very all with good health and mind

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8 Glori Surban March 1, 2014 at 2:21 am

I’ve heard many good things about Pilates but it always seems like an exercise done by rich people. (LOL) But reading about here deconstructed it. :)
I like the idea of concentrating and focusing on your core because I’m someone whose mind easily wanders when I’m exercising or doing some monotonous activity. I know I need to be more mindful, not just with exercise, but with a lot of other things.
Can Pilates be done without an instructor?
Glori Surban´s last blog post ..(Kindle) S.M.A.R.T. Goals Made Simple – 10 Steps to Master Your Personal and Career Goals

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9 Anastasiya March 1, 2014 at 9:54 pm

Hi Glori! An instructor will help you get the most benefits from a pilates session and will use the cues to help you doing your mind-body connection. If private sessions are not an option for you right now then you can definitely find great classes online. Visit http://www.pilatesbridge.com to find free pilates videos. I can also recommend several good Pilates books if you are interested. Just send me an email at core(at)pilatesbridge(dot)com and I’ll be happy to give you my favorite picks:-)
Anastasiya´s last blog post ..The Joys of Classical Pilates. Experience Joe’s Teaching in Your Living Room

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10 Joey March 9, 2014 at 10:11 am

my girlfriend used to do pilates and she also said that it gave a feeling of calmness. It also helped with her posture and with backache so it appears to have benefits.

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11 Robert March 17, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Fantastic! I really love those ideas in your “do-it-right-now plan” – they make completely sense and they are relatively easy to do.

Thanks for your great post Anastasiya.
Robert´s last blog post ..How To Bend Your Reality

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12 Anastasiya March 18, 2014 at 4:05 pm

You are welcome Robert! I am glad you liked the ideas in my article :-)
Anastasiya´s last blog post ..The #1 Reason Your Stomach Must Smile

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13 Robb Gorringe March 18, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Anastasiya,

I think you’re speaking my language, because when you mentioned the toilet thing, I’ve totally been there. It’s like, we don’t realize how our lives will undo a radical change until we step into something new.

I didn’t even realize that “Pilates” was the originators last name. Very cool. Great post!

Robb
Robb Gorringe´s last blog post ..19 Ways to Get the Girl of Your Dreams

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14 sherill August 5, 2014 at 7:54 pm

Hi , this post is just in time…. I know that exercise is good for the body but i just don’t feel the urge to do it daily. I tried doing the simple breathing exercises you mentioned and it really feels good inside. I also heard that Pilates teaches you how to train your mind and build symmetry and coordination in our body. I think that is really great. Thanks for sharing.
sherill´s last blog post ..Leveraged Cash Flow Secrets Highlights, Part 5 – My Exclusive Ray Higdon Interview

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